After mainly working on television during the past couple of years, the very accomplished actress Minnie Driver is coming back to the big screen as the star of the quirky musical comedy Hunky Dory, due out March 22, 2013. In this film, from the producer of Billy Elliot, Driver plays Vivienne, a drama teacher at a south Wales secondary school in 1976 during the summer term, who is determined to put on a great end of the year musical, despite all the obstacles in her way, including sweltering heat, and restless, disinterested students.
Vivienne decides to do a rock opera version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and in an effort to inspire enthusiasm from the apathetic teenagers, she uses hits of the day for the musical numbers. Named after the 1971 David Bowie album, the film features adaptations of his songs as well as music by The Beach Boys, The Byrds and others. The young cast, led by promising newcomer Aneurin Barnard, performs the musical numbers.
The film, which is directed by Marc Evans, also features veteran actor Robert Pugh as the school’s headmaster.
On its surface Hunky Dorky calls to mind such projects as the film High School Musical, and the TV series Glee. However, when one gets past the formula of music and melodrama in a high school setting, it is clear that this film, which contains its own brand of unique charm and a less clichéd soundtrack, is not merely a knockoff of these hits, and is surprisingly original in some ways.
Minnie Driver, who has proven herself to be equally adept at both comedy and drama in her previous roles, shines in this film, which is a mixture of both genres. Succeeding at this venture holds a special meaning for Driver’s character Vivienne, who has moved back to her hometown from London after failing to realize her own theatrical aspirations.
In addition to the difficulties Vivienne experiences with the students, she must also contend with a faculty who treat her as an outsider, and instead of offering much needed support, continue to discourage and criticize her efforts, especially her unconventional direction for the show and choice of music.
Besides Vivienne’s story, there is a range of plotlines involving the students, mainly focusing on their love lives. Critics of the film, which debuted in the UK last year, have been impressed by the acting skills of the young cast and even more impressed by their singing ability. They have not been as complimentary of Laurence Coriat’s screenplay, aspects of which many felt were underdeveloped.
Seeing the production as a healthy outlet for the students’ hormones, rebelliousness and romantic longings, at one point Vivienne talks about the necessity for the teenagers to explore their emotions. The film itself is, to a significant degree, an exploration of emotion, particularly those specific to the insecure, confusing, angst-filled teenaged years.